The Key to Creativity – Behaviours first, People second

Finding the best ingredients for successful creative thinking, is an important subject and one I’ve pondered before, most recently in the blog post – Isolation or Distraction? Which is better for the Creative process?


In this same area, there was an interesting perspective from MIT a couple of weeks ago Forget the Wisdom of Crowds : Neurobiologists reveal – The Wisdom of The Confident.


The MIT piece starts with a wonderful story regarding one of the earliest known examples of crowdsourcing

“Way back in 1906, the English polymath Francis Galton visited a country fair in which 800 people took part in a contest to guess the weight of a slaughtered ox. After the fair, he collected the guesses and calculated their average that turned out to be 1,208 pounds. To Galton’s surprise, this was within 1 percent of the true weight of 1,198 pounds”.

This piece of research suggests that the population is split into two groups. The first group includes a large percentage of the population who are easily influenced by other people’s inputs (which can often be wrong) whilst a second and smaller group of individuals tend to be more independent in their views.

This study indicates that focusing on the views of the latter group can prove more effective than a larger crowdsourcing project including all individuals. (Research by Gabriel Madirolas and Gonzalo De Polavieja at the Cajal Institute in Madrid, Spain )

 This research seems very much in tune with the core message of The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

 “The Law of the Few – “The success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts” ”…economists call this the “80/20 Principle, which is the idea that in any situation roughly 80 percent of the ‘work’ will be done by 20 percent of the participants”.

Separately, a fabulous piece last week in the New York Times took a rather more democratic view; here is Joshua Wolf Shenk on The End of Genius –

Where does creativity come from? For centuries, we’ve had a clear answer: the lone genius. The idea of the solitary creator is such a common feature of our cultural landscape (as with Newton and the falling apple) that we easily forget it’s an idea in the first place.

But the lone genius is a myth that has outlived its usefulness. Fortunately, a more truthful model is emerging: the creative network, as with the crowd-sourced Wikipedia or the writer’s room at “The Daily Show” or — the real heart of creativity — the intimate exchange of the creative pair, such as John Lennon and Paul McCartney and myriad other examples with which we’ve yet to fully reckon.

Shenk identifies ‘The Enlightenment’ as the period during which people changed from emphasising ‘collaborative creativity’ to concentrating on the ‘individual genius’. It is this cult of the lone creative genius (for example, relating to Newton, Einstein, Shakespeare or Dali) that still exists today.

Shank especially extols the importance of ‘teamwork in twos’ – a pair of people working together towards creative success –

The pair is the primary creative unit — not just because pairs produce such a staggering amount of work but also because they help us to grasp the concept of dialectical exchange. At its heart, the creative process itself is about a push and pull between two entities, two cultures or traditions, or two people, or even a single person and the voice inside the head

With this in mind, it is no surprise that the classic combination in a creative agency is a team of two – the Art Director and the Copywriter. Of course this makes sense as they originally combined to create print ads (pictures & words) but also because two, in Shank’s view, is the perfect number

Few of us would disagree with the assertion that a pair, or individuals combining together in groups, can be more creative than an individual working on his own.


But what is missing in both the above arguments, is the power of positive interaction and the importance of supportive creative behaviours between the individuals in the process – however many are involved.


In the Creative Thinking Sessions that we run at The Digital Filter, ( we spend considerable time helping teams develop the most efficient and productive behaviours.


It’s important to focus on getting the creative behaviours right first, rather than concentrating on who or how many are in the room. You’ll get much better outputs and ideas this way.

Nick Hammond